There are 21 voluntary returns surgeries in the community in the UK, according to information sent to a RAPAR volunteer by the Home Office following a Freedom of Information request.
It took 10 months for our volunteer to obtain the information from the Home Office. The Home Office turned down our volunteer's initial Freedom of Information request, he then asked for an internal review but they still refused to send him the information.
He complained to the Information Commissioner's Office and, finally, after the ICO had looked at all the correspondence, the Home Office was directed by the ICO to send the list to our volunteer.
Read the full list of voluntary returns surgeries here
RAPAR raises concerns about new Immigration and Voluntary Returns “surgeries in the community”
RAPAR is querying the Home Office's new policy of introducing immigration and voluntary returns surgeries into the community.
We are currently gathering questions about voluntary returns to send to the Home Office. Questions already put forward, most of them from refugees and people seeking asylum, cover a range of concerns about voluntary returns – including asking how the Government can be sure that people being encouraged to “go home” can be truly safe.
The Home Office claims there are now 30 voluntary returns surgeries in the community including one in Manchester which is running twice monthly sessions at the Transformation Community Resource Centre in Longsight.
One of the aims of this initiative is to persuade refugees to return to their home countries under a Government scheme which offers up to £2,000 for people to “voluntarily” return.
Julie Ward, North West MEP, has added her voice to questions being raised by RAPAR about the surgeries which are also operating in London, Birmingham and Slough.
“This new development is very worrying and comes hot on the heels of an insidious government policy that used homelessness charities as a means to identify and deport EU migrants before Christmas. The Home Office has a duty to uphold international norms regarding the treatment of vulnerable people such as refugees and asylum seekers. This should mean ensuring adequate and tailored support for a range of options. By locating voluntary returns surgeries in community spaces government policy may appear to be more benign than it is.
“I am very concerned that taxpayers' money is being used in a targeted and unbalanced way, with an emphasis on persuading vulnerable people to return to the very places that they were forced to flee for good reason. We need to question why this is happening in an increasingly hostile and xenophobic environment with a Conservative government that has failed in its basic duty regarding unaccompanied child refugees, let alone wider issues appertaining to the asylum process.”
People seeking asylum have pointed out to RAPAR that the Home Office's voluntary returns service is already easily accessible and, if people want to take advantage of it, they can. There is no need for “community surgeries”.
Sanctuary seekers in the UK have been forced to flee their home countries because their lives were at risk and they are among the most vulnerable, impoverished and traumatised groups in our society. They should not be pressured into returning to a situation where their safety cannot be guaranteed.
Dr Rhetta Moran, from RAPAR, said: “People seeking asylum - and those who have decided to stay in the UK undocumented after their cases have been failed by the Home Office - are here because they feel they are still in danger. Completing a 'voluntary' return form in a 'community' setting does not alter that danger.
“We have asked the Home Office to explain how they can ensure people's safety if they return. The Home Office knows it cannot do this. Community immigration surgeries are not offering people a real and free choice. There is nothing 'voluntary' about 'voluntary' returns.”
RAPAR also questions how impartial and non directive advice about voluntary returns can be given by Home Office staff in community surgeries when they are employed by a Government department which has been charged with driving down net migration.
On Wednesday 28th February 2018, at 1pm, we will be outside the Transformation Community Resource Centre, Richmond House, 11 Richmond Grove, Ardwick, Manchester, M13 0LN to communicate to people who may use the surgery why there is no such thing as a ‘Voluntary’ Return.